5 everyday products that hurt the environment

Tea bag

It’s kind of a given that cottagers have a particular connection to the environment—after all, it’s in our best interests to take care of the natural world so the cottage stays a magical escape from the city. (Why else would we spend all that time getting the dock in every year?)

What we might not realize, though, is that even though we recycle and compost and turn off our lights and try not to use our air conditioner unless it’s really hot, there are lots of sneaky ways we might be hurting the environment and not even know it—because some significant environmental damage is caused by everyday products that seem harmless.

Here are some we should make sure to avoid:

Plastic microbeads in face wash

These tiny plastic beads have been used in many cosmetic products as an exfoliant—but all that plastic gets washed down the drain and eventually ends up in our lakes and rivers. That’s bad enough—there are estimated to be 1.1 million microbeads per square kilometre in Lake Ontario, for example—but the beads can also absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). This makes them dangerous to fish who mistake them for food, and potentially harmful to those of us up the food chain too. Fortunately, last year the federal government has declared microbeads under 5 mm to be toxic, which paves the way for an outright ban. A better option than plastic for scrubbing your face? Natural exfoliants, like rice, powdered apricot seeds and bamboo.

Anti-bacterial handwash

Sure, you want to stay germ-free and protect your family from getting sick—but that anti-bacterial handwash you’re using is only making things worse. Much worse. That’s because triclosan, a common ingredient in handwash, dish detergent and deodorant, is linked to several health risks, including hormone disruption and the possible creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Plus, there’s no good evidence that products with triclosan clean things any better than soap and water—in fact, the FDA in the United States has banned anti-bacterial agents including triclosan because manufacturers have failed to prove that they’re safe and effective.

Coffee pods

Yes, they’re ridiculously convenient, but most of the almost 10 billion K-Cups produced in a year end up in landfills. That’s because they’re not recyclable in standard municipal programs unless you take out each pod component and dispose of them separately. And while coffee pod companies are working on ways to remedy this—and some companies produce biodegradable or compostable pods—isn’t it just nicer knowing you’re not adding to a landfill every time you need a coffee fix? Brewing the old-fashioned way, using unbleached coffee filters or a coffee press, is much better—and the grounds can be good for your garden!

“Flushable” wipes

If you’re on a septic system, chances are you’re super-vigilant about what gets flushed and what doesn’t—and wipes are on the “don’t” list with good reason. But those same wipes that gum up your septic system will also block up regular pipes, leading to potentially harmful sewage leaks. Not convinced? Check out this “fatberg” and see how much you want to flush that wipe afterwards. Yes, the package says flushable, but unless they’re made of toilet paper (which wouldn’t be all that useful) they really shouldn’t go in the bowl. Stick ‘em in the trash.

Mesh tea bags

They’re touted as giving tea a superior flavour, but those “silky” mesh tea bags are just old-fashioned plastic: usually food-grade nylon or another type of plastic known as polyethylene teraphthalate. This means, of course, that they’re not biodegradable. Both materials are considered safe in terms of leaching out harmful chemicals, but when a compostable (cheaper) alternative exists, why not take it? (Just keep in mind that to compost tea bags that have strings, you need to remove the string, label and staple.) Even better? Loose leaf tea and a reusable tea infuser.